Canada's law against polygamy should be upheld. Testimony from three "sister-wives" this week in British Columbia underscores the ills that flow from this practice: the exploitation and coercion of teenage girls, trafficking of child brides from the U.S. into Canada, exclusion of young men and abnormally high rates of teenage pregnancy.
No matter how rosy a picture the three anonymous witnesses from Bountiful, B.C., tried to paint of their lives, the reality of polygamous unions is extremely troubling. One witness, married just days after her seventeenth birthday, acknowledged that she crossed the border into Bountiful to join her new husband, claiming she was coming to visit an aunt and stay with a friend - a clear misrepresent-
ation. Within six months, another American teenager became her sister-wife. That girl was 15.
The question in the B.C. reference case, prompted by the abortive prosecution in 2009 of Bountiful's two leaders, is whether Section 293 of the Criminal Code barring polygamy is consistent with Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
While the Attorneys-General of B.C. and Canada are arguing that the law should be upheld, a court-appointed amicus curiae says the law is unconstitutional because it violates religious freedom.
To accept the practice as a religious right would be an accommodation too far.
Not only should the section be upheld, it should be applied. If there could be any doubt, consider the data from B.C.'s Vital Statistics Agency: From 1986 to 2009, Bountiful had 833 births to 215 mothers and 142 fathers. The rate of teen pregnancy is more than seven times the provincial rate. Since 2003, only 19 students from Bountiful have made it to Grade 12.
Barring polygamy remains a reasonable limit on religious freedom and a potent reminder that the law must protect the vulnerable and the equality rights and human dignity of women and children.